Happy Pumpkin Season

When asked what one food item reminds you of fall, what would you say? It's easy to imagine the vast majority of folks would say pumpkin, pumpkin spice, or some other variation of this fall favorite. Besides being just a symbol of the season, pumpkins also are a nutrient-dense, low-calorie food.

Pumpkin has about 50 calories, 1.8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.7 grams of dietary fiber according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pumpkins are also full of vitamins and minerals like beta carotene. Beta carotene is what gives a pumpkin its vibrant orange color. Our bodies convert beta carotene into vitamin A and eating foods with high volumes of beta carotene supports immune health, vision, and cell growth, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Because pumpkin is so nutrient-rich, there is a wide array of health benefits we can take advantage of by consuming pumpkin. From reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offering protection against asthma and heart disease, decreasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, to combatting fertility issues, pumpkin offers many health benefits to its consumer.

So, how do you choose that perfect pumpkin? Depends on what you plan on doing with it. The big, orange ones are the best choice for carving, but you're not going to want to eat those. For eating, look for smaller, sweeter pumpkins labeled "sugar" or "pie". When choosing the right pumpkin, avoid ones with dried-out stems, blemishes, bruises, or soft spots. An alternative to fresh pumpkin would be canned pumpkin puree from the grocery store. Pure pumpkin puree will offer the health benefits of pumpkin, but be careful to avoid pumpkin pie filling, as these are not the same thing and pie filling contains added sugar, which negates any health benefit you may be looking to attain.

Now that you found the perfect eating pumpkin, how are you going to prepare it? Pumpkin flesh and seeds are edible. Generally, treat the pumpkin like you would any other fall squash. Consider roasting it on parchment paper at 350º for about 45 minutes. First cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, and top with a small amount of oil and salt before placing it flesh side down in the oven. Recipes can also call for pumpkin puree. Puree is a versatile and creative way to incorporate pumpkin into different dishes, from oatmeal to pancakes to chili or muffins, the possibilities are endless. Make your own puree by first roasting the pumpkin and pureeing it in the blender.

Pumpkins are everywhere in the fall, and they make a nutritious addition to your meals, too. Enjoy it roasted or pureed and added into stews and baked goods. Happy Pumpkin Season!

For more information, check out the Richland County Nutrition Coalition Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/1rcnc1, and the Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/1rcnc1


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